Large trees causing frequent power outages in South Tampa

Posted at 5:38 AM, May 19, 2017

Drive down any street in South Tampa and you'll instantly see why so many people love the area. The historic homes, the water, and the big, big trees are just some of the reasons thousands of residents are drawn south of Kennedy Boulevard.

"South Tampa is paradise. It's beautiful. It's surrounded by water. You've got beautiful trees and beautiful landscaping," says Ed Shmookler of Sunset Park.

Shmookler lives on a tree-lined street in Sunset Park with his wife and two young children, ages 1 and 5.

"Who wouldn't want to live here and raise a family here," says Shmookler.

South Tampa is saturated with live oak trees, camphor trees, and palm trees, to name a few. While they're pretty, they can also be a pain.

"The main problem we have is our power goes out virtually every single week," says Seth Garber of Sunset Park.

In fact, while we were in the neighborhood on a sunny Thursday morning, homes on West Clear Avenue lost power for an unknown reason. It quickly came back on but frustrated homeowners had to reset things like washing machines, dishwashers, and stove clocks.

"It's a big problem," says Garber.

Drive down any street in South Tampa and you'll likely find big, beautiful trees with limbs that have grown under, over, and through power lines. According to Tampa Electric Company, 1 in 5 power outages are caused by tree limbs and trees that fall on the lines. As the trees get closer to the lines, so do the critters that live in those trees. TECO says like the trees, 1 in 5 power outages are caused by squirrels.

It's the power company's responsibility to trim the trees around the distribution lines. Those are the wires connected to the poles that line the property or sidewalk. TECO has a strict schedule that their certified arborist follows. Trees are trimmed on an, at most, 4-year-schedule.

"We are trimming year round. We trim in the winter, we trim in storm season, we trim year round to keep on that schedule," says Cherie Jacobs, manager of media and public relations at TECO.

"We see them, yes. They come out and they trim all the trees out and they carve out a pathway so that the wires can run through it," says Shmookler.

We asked if there was, perhaps, a backlog that would explain the overgrowth we saw in Sunset Park. Jacobs says TECO's tree trimming crews are on schedule.

"They may have an unusual situation where the tree grew faster than predicted and so maybe we need to come out an additional time," says Jacobs.

With just two weeks until hurricane season, people are starting to take action at their properties. Picking up debris and cutting limbs back, trying to avoid contributing to a disaster.

In Sunset Park last year, neighbors reported a live wire that had come down during a storm.

"That's essentially what happens. Limbs come down. Wires come down. And then basically you just hope to God that a child doesn't come running by and touch the wire. There's probably 15 kids that live in this vicinity. They're climbing trees and whatnot and basically, you can climb up and touch these wires. They're low and they're unsafe," says Shmookler.

Shmookler isn't the only one on the block who feels this way. Neighbor Seth Garber moved into Sunset Park 4 years ago.

"We've been fighting them [TECO] since I've lived here. We've been trying to get them to go underground."

Garber says he and Shmookler were originally quoted $2,000 to put the lines underground on their properties. But then says when TECO came out to do an in-person estimate, that quote jumped to more than $16,000.

"It was crazy so we elected not to do it," says Garber.

Because of the positioning of the poles, a third neighbor would have to agree to put lines underground but Shmookler says that neighbor doesn't want to spend the money. Shmookler and Garber would need to fork over the money to cover their neighbor's underground line.

Roughly 40% of TECO's distribution lines, which span 8,000 miles, are underground. But they're mostly in newer neighborhoods or developments like FishHawk, Brandon, and Trinity.

"Underground lines are only slightly more reliable than overhead lines. But when there's a problem, that problem is harder to find and it's harder to fix because you have to pinpoint it, dig it up, and replace the equipment," says Jacobs.

"It's an awesome community with awesome neighbors. We love it. We love living down here but it's [power outages] probably one of the stickiest points for us as a family," says Garber.

With hurricane season starting June 1, homeowners are urged to take necessary precautions around their property to ensure minimal damage from high winds and potential flooding.

Look up at the power lines on your property. If you notice any branches near lines that are blackened, browned, or charred call TECO immediately. Frayed lines and sparks are also red flags and are considered an emergency.

Click here to view residential outage map.

Click here for Tampa Electric's storm tips.

Click here to report a power outage.